Intention: Sister Helen's Visit to Oregon Part 3

Hearing Sister Helen last week helped me to synthesize my understanding of her work and of my own motivations as an advocate for social justice. A specific encounter with her prompted a revelation regarding why I have been engaged by incarceration issues ever since the conclusion of my Inside-Out class. She reminded me of an idea of Dostoevsky’s. In 1862, Dostoevsky wrote in The House of The Dead that “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” If Dostoevsky was correct, then the United States is uncivilized. How a society treats those who it perceives to have broken its most sacred moral codes is a direct reflection of that society’s values and the nature of interactions amongst its members. At the heart of the imprisonment of convicted individuals is the confluence of compelling social justice issues. Poverty, access to healthcare, mental health practice, gender, education, socioeconomic status, illegal substance abuse, and race heavily influence our criminal justice system. How our culture defines, reacts to, and addresses crime seems to be at the heart of many social justice issues in the United States. The prospect of studying incarceration and dedicating my life to reforming its practices excites me because crime is an issue, an ethical intersection, at which so many of my countrymen and countrywomen converge. Sister Helen’s description of how she is replenished by her work, of the reciprocal nature of the loving life forces she comes in contact with, encouraged me to look forward to a possible career dedicated to incarceration issues. -Nina S.

Inside-Out Alumna